San Antonio City Council declares racism a public health crisis

D10 Councilman Clayton Perry abstains from voting, citing ‘divisive’ language in resolution

SAN ANTONIO – The San Antonio City Council declared racism a public health crisis on Thursday, passing a resolution that, among other promises, “commits to advocating for racial justice as a core element of all policies, programs, and procedures.”

The resolution was passed by all council members, except District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez, who was absent, and District 10 Councilman Clayton Perry, who abstained from voting.

The resolution does not make any immediate changes. However, it includes various commitments to pursue racial equity, like reviewing policies and procedures to eliminate racial bias and working with historically marginalized communities to find solutions for health equity issues. Residents and council members alike noted that actual action would still need to follow.

"We are here for systemic change and not just for check-the-box exercises," said the city's Chief Equity Officer Zan Gibbs, who presented the resolution to council members.

The resolution resulted from a merger of drafts supported by District 2 Councilwoman Jada Andrews-Sullivan and District 7 Councilwoman Ana Sandoval, with input from the city's Office of Equity and the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District's Office of Health Equity.

Andrews-Sullivan became visibly emotional as she read the entire resolution aloud before Thursday's vote. The document references various challenges people of color face, including worse health outcomes and harder economic circumstances in Bexar County.

It also includes numerous examples of historic racism, including slavery, Jim Crow laws, redlining policies, segregated lunch counters, and the 1918 Porvenir Massacre in West Texas, which was perpetrated by white cattlemen, Texas Rangers, and U.S. Army Cavalry soldiers.

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"The wording in this document, if it hurts you, that is what it is meant to do. It is meant to bring out the areas that need to be addressed," Andrews-Sullivan said.

Perry, though he denounced racism in his comments and said he agreed with the premise of the document, abstained from voting. The District 10 Councilman said he had asked "some of my colleagues to consider revising the document," but his recommendations were turned down.

"There are some 'whereas' statements that I feel are divisive and, in my opinion, do not necessarily add strength to the relevance of the argument that racism is a public health crisis," Perry said.

Though Perry did not specify what portions to which he was referring during his comments, his spokeswoman later said the reference to the Porvenir Massacre was one area Perry was hoping to edit. That section had been added upon District Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran's request after an Aug. 7 Community Health and Equity Committee meeting.

While most of the residents who called into Thursday’s meeting supported the resolution, some were clear they wanted to see action, not just words, and pointed to the San Antonio Police Department budget as a place to start.

"It's time to, frankly, put your money where your mouth is. At current, public health is slated to receive $19.3 million in the upcoming budget. While policing, which is far more often than not the source of racism within our city, is slated to receive $487 million," community organizer Celeste Brown told council members.

The city is in the middle of its budget process for FY 2021, and activists have expressed their frustration that cuts to the police budget have not been included.

About the Author:

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.